Location Winners and Losers
March 12, 2018
By Joe Nelson
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While the focus in the aftermath of Selection Sunday is often on seeds and the matchups, many coaches might prioritize the venue draw in those announcements as the programs scramble to make travel arrangements and hope to get fan support thrown into often random location assignments.
The committee allegedly only makes location concessions for the top handful of seeds but certainly there were winners and losers in the location assignments.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Virginia Tech: The Hokies are caught in a difficult 8/9 matchup in the opening round for the second consecutive season. This year Virginia Tech draws a favorable venue playing about 300 miles north of Blacksburg in Pittsburgh. While Charlotte would have been the best case draw for Virginia Tech travel-wise, drawing Alabama makes the Pittsburgh setting more favorable. This arena will likely be filled with Villanova fans making the trip west but the Hokies have to feel good about the assignment, especially drawing an Alabama team that needed a taxing SEC tournament run last week to even confirm its entry into the field.
Loser – Duke: In three of the last four years Duke has opened the NCAA Tournament in either North or South Carolina playing very close to home. With Duke considered a candidate for a #1 seed most had to assume they would pull games in Charlotte but the rival Tar Heels landed in the Charlotte pod along with overall #1 Virginia. While supporters of Duke are spread out across the east coast, the Pittsburgh draw and being coupled with Villanova playing in the same arena in the home state of the Wildcats isn’t as favorable of a path as Duke usually comes to expect. Duke’s opponent Iona is actually playing slightly closer to home than the heavily favored Blue Devils and the same would be true in a potential Saturday matchup with Rhode Island.
Wichita, Kansas (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Kansas: The Jayhawks won the Big XII regular season and Big XII Tournament titles and claimed a #1 seed and a short drive southwest from campus to Wichita. Few teams in the field get to play this close to home and in home state territory and unlike some past years there will be little local competition for tickets as other nearby teams like Kansas State, Wichita State, and Oklahoma were all sent elsewhere. To offset the favorable venue draw however is that Kansas pulled a Pennsylvania team that has a profile that is much stronger than most past #16 seeds.
Loser – Michigan: The Wolverines cruised through the Big Ten tournament to greatly elevate its seeding possibilities. Michigan landed a #3 seed to sit at the high end of those projections but they might have preferred a #4 draw in Detroit, Pittsburgh, or even Nashville as it will be a lengthy road trip for those looking to support the Maize and Blue. The rival Spartans landed a favorable spot in Detroit even though Michigan went 2-0 against Michigan State this season which might be a sore spot. Kansas fans figure to dominate the crowd in Wichita and Houston would certainly have a bit of a location edge in a potential weekend matchup for the Wolverines.
Dallas, Texas (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Stephen F. Austin: Campus for the Lumberjacks is less than a three hour drive away, nearly half the distance Texas Tech faces in this in-state battle. Stephen F. Austin has won NCAA Tournament games in two of the program’s last three appearances over the last four years but they drew far away landing spots in San Diego, Portland, and Brooklyn in those games. This is a great opportunity for the program even if this year’s team doesn’t grade as highly as the Stephen F. Austin teams of the past few years. Texas Tech has to be thrilled to be in Dallas but the first round draw features a bit more heightened pressure than a #3 seed might expect.
Loser – Tennessee: The Volunteers reached the SEC championship game and drew a favorable #3 seed but they didn’t get the Nashville games they likely hoped for. Charlotte certainly would have been a solid option for the Volunteers as well but instead Tennessee has been sent to Texas and it is likely going to be a tough ticket on Saturday if Texas Tech advances to the round of 32. Tennessee also has to play an early Thursday game after the SEC Championship ended Sunday afternoon while Wright State has been idle for eight days ahead of this opportunity.
Boise, Idaho (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Gonzaga: The 2017 national runners-up got the location draw they wanted in Boise, by far the closest option for the team though many felt a #3 seed was deserved. In terms of distance traveled Thursday’s opponent UNC-Greensboro has one of the furthest trips of the tournament to benefit Gonzaga although the early time slot isn’t likely ideal for the favored Bulldogs facing an east coast squad. Arizona is also in this grouping but Gonzaga should have a great deal of support in Boise looking to return to the Final Four.
Loser – Ohio State: The Buckeyes only lost to high quality foes this season and only two Big Ten teams were able to beat Ohio State all season. A #5 seed isn’t out of line for Ohio State but they probably would have preferred most other venues. Brookings isn’t all that much closer to Boise compared with Columbus but in a pod with Gonzaga support should be solid for the fellow mid-major west of the Mississippi as South Dakota State could be a dangerous underdog. If Ohio State advances they will share the arena with heavyweight fan bases from Kentucky, Arizona, and Gonzaga in the most likely scenarios.
Charlotte, North Carolina (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – North Carolina: Beating Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinal, despite losing to Duke a few days prior, seems to have landed the Tar Heels with the much more favorable venue draw in Charlotte, just 140 miles from Chapel Hill. The defending national champions shouldn’t have a lot of competition in the early block Friday with the other schools making lengthy trips while the ACC should dominate the Sunday crowd with top seed Virginia also in this grouping.
Loser – Creighton: Losing the final two games with Creighton falling at Marquette in the regular season finale and losing in overtime against Providence in the Big East tournament likely cost the Blue Jays in seeding. Falling to #8 seed and getting paired with #1 overall Virginia isn’t the best path for the Blue Jays and the Charlotte draw certainly wouldn’t have been Creighton’s first choice with Wichita and Dallas as possibilities.
Detroit, Michigan (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – Michigan State: The Spartans went 0-2 against Michigan but while both Big Ten squads earned #3 seeds, Michigan State landed the very favorable Detroit draw to be one of the closest to home teams in the field, just 90 miles away. Michigan State had a bit of a case for a #2 seed as the regular season champions in the Big Ten but the path as a #3 in this venue looks like a worthy trade-off. Purdue and Butler are also in this venue playing relatively close to home but green figures to be the most common color in the arena.
Loser – Arkansas: The Razorbacks can’t have much of a gripe with its seeding with late season wins over Auburn and Florida likely boosting Arkansas up from a more likely 8/9 game. The issue is playing in Detroit against a Butler squad that is by far the best rated #10 seed and a team that in many metrics rates ahead of Arkansas. Butler is also playing only about a four hour drive from Indianapolis. With two Big Ten heavyweights in this arena most fans will certainly be rooting against the SEC team as there were several more attractive locations for Arkansas available.
Nashville, Tennessee (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – Xavier: The Musketeers are a fairly suspect #1 seed relative to past seasons but no other team stepped up in the final days of conference tournament action to knock Xavier off the top line. Xavier draws a favorable Nashville venue about 270 miles away though they will be sharing the space with rival Cincinnati as the likely dominant fan bases in the building. Missouri does lurk as a fairly nearby threat in a potential Sunday matchup but ultimately Xavier won’t face a lot of competition in the crowds from an ACC or SEC power in the region with teams like Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolina schools sent elsewhere. The Musketeers also face the NC Central/Texas Southern winner, a weaker pairing than the Radford/LIU-Brooklyn matchup.
Loser – Nevada: Had Nevada won the Mountain West Tournament they likely wouldn’t have been seeded significantly higher as the #7 pull isn’t bad for the Wolf Pack despite clear signs of trouble developing late in the season. Staying out west likely would have been preferred but the Wolf Pack has been given a day game in the Eastern Time zone. Texas is also a highly regarded #10 seed and a Longhorns team dealing with some late season injuries gets an extra day with the Friday scheduling for a tough first round matchup.
San Diego, California (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – New Mexico State: By default the Aggies get the billing as the only team likely happy with playing in San Diego in a grouping featuring six Eastern Time zone teams and Wichita State. Las Cruces is nearly 700 miles away from San Diego but that beats the over 2,000 miles from Auburn and the nearly 2,500 miles from Morgantown. Clemson will be the favorite against New Mexico State but the Tigers are playing across the country with a 2,300 mile trip west while that game also draws the late night time slot to boost the upset threat.
Loser – West Virginia: The Mountaineers were one of the top ranked teams much of the season before some late season inconsistency. West Virginia nearly rallied to win the Big XII Tournament but still wound up in the #5 line as by far the highest rated #5 squad and a team that rates ahead of three of the four #4 squads by most measures. West Virginia has been handed lengthy travel coming off a taxing run of games last weekend and they pull a disciplined and veteran Murray State squad that could make a case for a slightly higher seed. In this mismatch grouping of out place teams upsets certainly look possible. Auburn, Clemson, and Wichita State could be in this listing as well as while San Diego has lovely weather, all of these teams had much better location options in mind.
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